Clegg deserves the chance to finish what he's started

Despite what some on the left of the Lib Dems claim, we’re living out our principles in government.

Mathew Hulbert's piece calling for Nick Clegg to stand down is as wrong as I've ever seen any Lib Dem be. Mathew has badly interpreted the party and shown ignorance about its history and politics.

He states that that he is "in mourning" for a party that "believes in very little that it once held dear" but his examples aren’t just weak, they’re plain wrong. He mourns that the party did not vote for the 50p tax rate at conference, which present as totemic of our history. But while Mathew is technically correct that we have never believed in a 45p rate, the 50p rate hasn’t been in a manifesto for nearly 10 years. Our policy has traditionally been maintaining a 40p top rate, whilst shifting taxes to wealth. He also rails against the party for supporting a replacement for Trident. Except Lib Dem policy in 2010 was to find a smaller, cheaper Trident – we've never been anti-nuclear weapons.

Next, Hulbert argues that Nick Clegg wants to turn us into a British version of the German FDP, who he describes as a "parasitical attachment" to Merkel's CDU. He goes on to say that this must not be the aim of the Lib Dems. But this is a straw man; I don’t know a single Lib Dem who’d agree with him. Yes, we’re pitching for another term in government but we’ve said we’ll talk to whoever the public wants us to. If we aren’t aiming for government, there’s even less point to our existence than many of the commentators on the piece will claim.

Finally, Hulbert cites Clegg’s answer to Linda Jack during his Q&A at conference. Jack is one of the awkward squad, a lady for whom I have much respect, but we agree on little. Her group, Liberal Left, of which Mathew is a member, seeks permanent realignment of the Lib Dems with the left. Put simply, they want to be a "parasitical attachment" to Labour.

Every day we’re living out our principles in government. We’ve curtailed the worst of Tory excesses whilst lowering tax on the poor, introducing the pupil premium, attempting to reform our broken political system and so much more. We haven’t got everything, but that’s because we only have 57 MPs. We’ve accepted some bitter pills, but then so have the Conservatives.

What stands as a testament to Clegg’s character is his continuing leadership. He has lead us into government for the first time in decades and withstood the barrage of hatred directed at him from both left and right. His value is again growing with many recognising the strength he has shown throughout his leadership.

We have achieved so much so far, whether it's the fantastic free school meals policy, or raising the tax threshold for the poorest workers in society. There’s so much more still to push for. 

Clegg has some of the sharpest liberal instincts in politics, there’s no one ready to replace him yet and to do so would be foolhardy. He deserves the chance to finish what he’s started.

Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer

Nick Clegg delivers his speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.

Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.